Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello will line up on the front row of the United States Grand Prix grid tomorrow, but will be surrounded by Michelin-shod runners as the French tyre company again proved to be the dominant force on day of changeable conditions.

While there was no repeat of the rain that blighted the qualifying session on Friday - and may have played into Bridgestone's hands had it appeared - temperatures at Indianapolis Motor Speedway fluctuated along with the amount of sunshine and wind speed, aiding and frustrating in equal measure.

Barrichello had to battle against the windy conditions, but wound up just a tenth of a second behind pole man Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher was seventh fastest after a run affected by a handling problem, but the Scuderia was the only team to put Bridgestone into the top ten, with BAR duo Jenson Button and Jacques Villeneuve occupying eleventh and twelfth places respectively.

"It was a good qualifying for this stage of the championship," admitted Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, "Certainly, Michael and [Juan] Montoya couldn't afford to make any mistakes in qualifying, but I think we're in a good position for the race tomorrow. The Bridgestones are looking promising and we have the prediction of perhaps some showers or rain tomorrow, which should make life interesting..."

R?ikk?nen, meanwhile, boosted his slim world championship hopes by qualifying fastest of all for only the second time in his relatively short Formula One career, and Michelin saw eight of its drivers wind up in the top ten, with Olivier Panis proving to be a surprise package after taking third spot ahead of the Williams and Renault entries.

Title contender Montoya increased his chances of cutting back arch-rival Schumacher's three-point championship lead by qualifying fourth, three places ahead of the German, who saw his unbroken run of USGP poles ended by a wayward F2003-GA.

Of the remaining Michelin runners, Fernando Alonso took sixth for Renault, but there was disappointment for his team-mate Jarno Trulli who, having set the pace in Friday's opening qualifying session, upset his final qualifying preparations by crashing during the 15-minute warm-up session. The team worked swiftly to repair his damaged chassis but he was only able to qualify tenth.

"It is very difficult to strike the right balance at Indianapolis, because teams have to generate good top-end performance for the long main straight without sacrificing too much grip through the infield," Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier explained, "We have to develop tyres that will cope with these two strongly contrasting elements and it is very satisfying to see that we have been able to maintain the level of competitiveness that has been our hallmark this season.

"There are only subtle differences between our tyres. One is slightly quicker than the other a single flying lap, but the other might be a little more consistent over a long run. Things are delicately poised and it promises to be a very interesting race. We have absolutely no concerns about tyre wear with either compound."

 

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